Gilles Vandenoostende

Hi, I'm Gilles Vandenoostende - designer, illustrator and digital busybody with a love of language, based in Ghent, Belgium.

Why Microsoft Word must die

I’ve disliked Word (and the entire Microsoft Office suite) for almost as long as I can remember. It’s terrible for doing actual writing in, has a terrible compatibility track record, but it also articulated precisely what I always felt was so clumsy about using it:

[…] Arguments raged internally: should it use control codes, or hierarchical style sheets? In the end, the decree went out: Word should implement both formatting paradigms. Even though they’re fundamentally incompatible and you can get into a horrible mess by applying simple character formatting to a style-driven document, or vice versa. Word was in fact broken by design, from the outset — and it only got worse from there.

Bingo.

The truth is that today, for most people, you don’t need a giant, expensive, bloated piece of software to actually write. Especially if you’re doing it for a living.

Unless you’re old and still use snail-mail on a regular basis, most of what you write never gets printed as-is. It either gets sent via e-mail, is copy-pasted into a CMS’s text-area, or passed along to a graphic designer whose job it is to properly typeset your prose in Indesign (or Photoshop, or Illustrator, etc…) before publishing. None of these parts of the process benefit from the text coming by way of a .doc(x) file, and in fact it’s likely an active hindrance*. And its implementation of versioning is so byzantine that most people would rather just save extra copies of their files than actually figure out how to use it**.

In my experience, nothing of worth ever goes straight from Microsoft Word into the public’s hands. So why pay through the nose for the privilege of using (or having your employees use) a sub-optimal tool?

Personally, I use iA Writer for all my writing needs. It’s dead-simple to use, has a nice font to stare at, and its output is just plain-text, so it’s universally compatible and it’ll likely never become obsolete or unreadable. And if you write for the web (or need rich-text formatting), it comes with Markdown support so you can effortlessly export structured, valid HTML with minimal effort on your part. And your designers, type-setters & developers will love you for not handing them yet another shitty Word file set in Times New Roman.

* A hindrance, because Word’s rich-text engine makes selecting text harder than it should be, by “helpfully” snapping your selection to include some extra word, white-space, or punctuation you don’t want, or (in the case of web-publishing) frequently adding a whole bunch of invisible in-line styles that mess up the CSS styling of the website it ends up on, should you ever carelessly copy/paste your copy into some CMS.
** Hands up if you’ve seen this file-naming pattern before: website-copy-v5-DEF-NO-REALLY-THIS-IS-THE-LATEST-VERSION2 copy.docx

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